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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A dragonfly fashioned from a machine gun barrel and a rifle butt carved into the portrait of an ancient Egyptian queen are just a few of the works Iraqi artists are making from weapons of war.
Graduates of Baghdad University's College of Fine Arts say the project they started late last year takes objects that have brought devastation to Iraq and uses them to create instead.
"It's a message from Baghdad to the world: we are transforming pieces of destruction into pieces of art," said sculptor Haider Muwafaq, laying down a blow torch he used to turn steel bars into an abstract model of an old Baghdad neighborhood.
The artists are unlikely to run out of materials. Iraq is one of the region's most militarized nations, awash with old weapons from Saddam Hussein's regime and new ones smuggled in by insurgents and militiamen.
Each day, the Iraqi Mine/Unexploded Ordnance Clearance Organization (IMCO) destroys some 800 weapons, including AK-47 rifles, old-style British Bren guns, mortar rounds and belt-fed machine guns collected by U.S. forces during raids.
"It's a pioneering idea," said IMCO boss Zahim Jihad Muttar. "To see weapons which were a means to destroy and slaughter be used to depict life and freedom: this is a beautiful thing."
At a small workshop in central Baghdad, a life-sized statue of a cowboy cobbled together out of rocket launcher parts and holding real pistols dominates the scene.
Next to him is a scrap metal fish, a very real-looking robot and a figurine of an acrobat swinging off the recoil spring from inside an AK-47.
The display also includes a version of the iconic bust of queen Nefertiti, wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten who was known for her beauty, carved into a rifle butt. The wider end of its triangular shape forms her lavish headdress.
The group of artists and IMCO will open a gallery to the public in April. Cash from sales will go to orphanages keeping children who have been wounded by bombs or landmines, they said.
"Our slogan is: 'Farewell to Arms'," said Ali Hameed, putting the finishing touches to a sculpture of a motorbike.
Editing by Tim Cocks and Mike Collett-White